NetApp Plans Big Management Software Push For FlashRay All-Flash Storage

NetApp's Brian Pawlowski

NetApp, which recently released its long-delayed FlashRay all-flash storage array, is preparing to make a number of key additions to its software capabilities that will make it better able to compete with competitive solutions that have been in the channel for a year or more.

NetApp plans to include data snapshot capabilities and a high-availability architecture in the near future, said Brian Pawlowski, senior vice president and member of NetApp's technical staff.

"Next year is very important for us and FlashRay," Pawlowski told CRN.

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NetApp will also add auto-tiering as a way to move older data onto less expensive storage media, Pawlowski said.

"The startups don't offer tiering," he said. "Their all-flash arrays are fast, but there's no easy way to get the old data off them."

A lot of flash storage arrays lack the kind of management capabilities found in traditional storage arrays, Pawlowski said.

"We're looking at our Data Ontap for management capabilities," he said. "We want to offer consistent management between our storage families over time. What's the point of having a portfolio like ours if we don't offer additive value?"

NetApp in September released FlashRay , its first storage solution built from the ground-up as an all-flash storage array. Release of the NetApp FlashRay and its new Mars storage operating system had been expected for late 2013 or early 2014.

FlashRay, which is focused on block storage workloads, is not NetApp's first all-flash storage array.

NetApp offers all-flash versions of its Data Ontap-based FAS line of unified SAN and NAS appliances, which were designed for a variety of workloads. The company's third line, its EF-Series all-flash storage line , is targeted at higher-density storage applications.

The all-flash storage array market has in the last year matured on a number of fronts, with all the major system vendors now offering solutions, said John Woodall, vice president of engineering at Integrated Archive Systems, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based solution provider and long-time NetApp partner.

"Startups have done well, but are now facing headwinds as larger vendors start to focus on this market," Woodall told CRN.

Compared to EMC and the release of its XtremIO all-flash storage solution, NetApp has been smart in taking its time, Woodall said.

"So far, its an early release of FlashRay while NetApp collects real-world data," he said. "NetApp has a great roadmap."

NEXT: Features vs. Performance

NetApp appears to have plans to deploy FlashRay solutions along other NetApp products while moving towards compatibility between them, Woodall said.

"EMC and others have a story about weaving their technologies together, but that requires additional software and services," Woodall said. "Hopefully NetApp finds the right way to facilitate the use cases between platforms."

Auto-tiering to move old data off expensive flash storage, and to move it back to flash when it gets hot again, is a key requirement Woodall said.

"This is a great case for using FlashRay with NetApp's FAS arrays and FlexPod," he said.

Woodall said, as a partner but thinking from the customer perspective, it is more important to make a solution right before focusing solely on performance.

"NetApp is not pushing FlashRay yet," he said. "It's pushing its EF and FAS flash solutions. Both are mature. This takes some of the pressure off FlashRay."

Brad Bailie, data center practice lead at MCPc, a Cleveland, Ohio-based solution provider and NetApp partner, said his company plans to use FlashRay as part of a new solution to attack Oracle's Exadata engineered solutions.

Bailie told CRN that MCPc sees Oracle Exadatas sold into about 90 percent of its accounts."

"I'm planning to build a solution combining Cisco UCS and NetApp's FlashRay storage for our Oracle customers," Bailie told CRN. "We sell into Oracle environments, but don't sell Oracle. But customers have ELAs (enterprise license agreements) that can be transferred to a new architecture."

Prior to FlashRay, such a solution was possible by putting Fusion-io flash storage cards into NetApp FAS arrays. "But that doesn't have the sex appeal of a FlashRay," he said. "With FlashRay, we can say, 'We're built for databases.'"

FlashRay is not perfect because it misses some critical features like full redundancy, Bailie said. "But that will all come," he said.